Telkom’s board is widely expected to appoint Nombulelo “Pinky” Moholi, MD of its SA operation, as its new group CEO, a move analysts say is great news for the partially state-owned fixed-line telecommunications provider.
Denis Smit, MD of consultancy BMI-TechKnowledge, says Moholi brings a solid understanding of both Telkom and the industry. He says that of all the candidates interviewed for the job, Moholi stood out.
“She is a formidable person and she understands the very complicated environment that telecoms has become,” he says.
Telkom is suddenly faced with real competition and the industry has become complex. Smit says it is vital for Telkom to have someone that understands that complexity, including the impact that local-loop unbundling will have on its operations.
However, he says she will have a tough job and will have to rescue the group’s Africa strategy and infuse energy into 8ta, which Smit says appears to be losing momentum.
Frost & Sullivan analyst Spiwe Chireka says competition in the telecoms industry is now too hot for Telkom to consider an outsider. She says Moholi will bring extensive knowledge of the SA operation to bear, but will have to turn her focus on Nigeria and pick up the pace at 8ta.
“She is the ideal candidate,” says Chireka.
If Moholi is promoted to group CEO, Telkom will need to find a strong candidate to fill the vacancy at Telkom SA. Chireka thinks ousted — and then rehired — former group chief operating officer Motlatsi Nzeku could be in line for the position.
Nzeku was fired by September after he allegedly leaked confidential Telkom documents to the media. Acting group CEO Jeffrey Hedberg was forced to rehire Nzeku after he won a private arbitration challenging his dismissal. He has been brought back as MD of Telkom International.
Nzeku’s old position of chief operating officer was scrapped by September, with the new role of Telkom SA MD assuming many of the responsibilities of the position.
However, it’s well known that senior Telkom executives distrust Nzeku and blame him for being behind one or more recent dossiers that make allegations about poor corporate governance and corruption at the group.
Another question that remains is how Moholi will work with Telkom’s board. A senior telecoms analyst, who asks to remain anonymous to maintain a good working relationship with Moholi, says that historically Telkom’s CEO has had to manage the relationship with the board rather than being left to focus on operational duties.
“For Telkom to show any real change, the board needs to play along with the new CEO. They will have to understand that massive cost cutting has to take place. But Moholi’s hands could be tied if the board doesn’t come to the party,” he says.
However, he says Moholi is “a fighter” and will do what she believes is right.
Smit says the appointment of Lazarus Zim as Telkom chairman could go a long way in helping Moholi get on with operational duties. “Because he is politically well connected, Zim could act as a buffer for Moholi,” he says.
Moholi has long been tipped as a front-runner for the group CEO position, with other applicants, including former group chief financial officer Peter Nelson and Denel CEO Talib Sadik, being interviewed for the post.
Telkom has been without a permanent head since the sudden resignation in July last year of Reuben September. Hedberg, a former Cell C CEO — and later head of Telkom’s deeply troubled Nigeria subsidiary Multi-Links — took over from September in an acting capacity.
Hedberg is due to leave Telkom in less than three weeks after he declined to be interviewed for the CEO position on a permanent basis.
Moholi reportedly has the support of government, which holds a 39,8% direct shareholding in the company.
Moholi has worked for the company on and off since 1994. She left Telkom in 2005 when Papi Molotsane took the group CEO reins from Sizwe Nxasana. Molotsane made several executive changes, effectively demoting Moholi and prompting her resignation. She moved on to become group executive for strategy, marketing and corporate affairs at Nedbank.
In April 2009, Moholi returned to Telkom — after September had replaced Molotsane, who was fired — to head up its domestic business and was involved in getting Telkom’s mobile arm, 8ta, off the ground. — Candice Jones, TechCentral